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The Suleman Octuplet Case: An Analysis of Multiple Ethical Issues

  • M. Sara Rosenthal
    Correspondence
    Correspondence to: M.S. Rosenthal, PhD, Program for Bioethics, Department, Internal Medicine, Suite K522, University of Kentucky, 740 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40536-0284. Phone: 859-257-9474; fax: 859-257-2605.
    Affiliations
    Program for Bioethics, Department, Internal Medicine, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky
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      Abstract

      The Suleman octuplet case is the first reported case in which surviving octuplets were born as a result of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. In this case, the octuplets were born to an American single mother of six children, who was on public assistance, and who used a sperm donor. This has raised multiple ethical questions, which include the ethical obligations of the health care providers involved, the informed consent process, as well as moral obligations of the mother to her existing children and unborn children. This case analysis provides a clinical ethics and prenatal ethics framework, based on relevant American media and public documents available from January 26, 2009, to January 26, 2010, the period of time in which media scrutiny of this case was most relevant. Although this analysis introduces broader ethical implications, it is not intended as a philosophical discourse regarding the rights of patients to reproduce or the rights of society to place limits on who can and who cannot reproduce; neither is it intended as an in-depth policy review of reproductive technologies. Rather, this analysis focuses on clinical ethics breaches in this particular case, which led to an unintended outcome. The relevant clinical ethical principles, duties, and obligations are identified, with recommendations for a preventative ethics approach in the absence of clear policies that regulate embryo transfer.
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      Biography

      M. Sara Rosenthal, PhD, is Associate Professor, Bioethics and Director, Program for Bioethics at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. She is Chair of the University of Kentucky Medical Center's Hospital Ethics Committee and directs the clinical ethics consult service.